Sunday, May 12, 2013

Becoming an Adult Child

The arrival of the adult child plagues both parent and child. It is an unavoidable stage in life as someday we're all forced to become someone's adult child. The very notion of the adult child causes parents endless worry and concern:

"Will they still need me?" 
"Will they build a life they are happy and proud of?" 
"Will they remember how proud I am of them?" 
"Will they be proud of where they are from?" 

And in time, guilt begins to slowly creep its way into the daily lives of even the greatest adult children: 

"I should have called sooner." 
"I know I should visit for the holidays, but..."
"I should be closer to my family." 
"I'm not around enough." 
"I hope they know how much I love and miss them." 

Living far from home is a common symptom of adult childhood and learning to lead a life separate from the family you've always known is an inevitable part of growing up. In place of everyday interaction, we're forced to rely heavily upon our memories to keep us close. But memories themselves can pose an even greater threat than separation itself.  This is because families are made up of individuals and while it is not so difficult to agree a history based on a shared time and place, it is sometimes impossible to agree the exact events, emotions or outcomes of time spent together. So many families rely on a shared story as a false measure of unity and strength. And its dispute creates tension second only to that of religion and politics.

Our family is complex; complex to the point of it really only being my family. My parents divorced when I was very young and as my mother's youngest child and my father's oldest child, I am the only child between the two of them. This has made looking through family albums feel something like memory loss. Only knowing fragments of stories has left me to fill in the rest and assumptions made over the years caused me to create a mythology all my own. 

For much of my youth this mythology frightened me. As a child I could never make sense of my mother's knee jerk reactions at the telling and reliving of seemingly happy past events.  After witnessing a quick turn of the head or a casual exit, I would prompt her for an explanation. She would do her very best to carefully tell me that some of my best memories were actually some of her worst. This never settled well for me and as I grew older I spent far too much time fighting with her, and demanding facts. 

It's only now that I am an adult that I've been able to appreciate all the things that my mother has done for me and while we might never agree on facts of the past, I want her to really know that it's finally okay with me. I wanted to write about this as a way to thank my mother. Because even with all the distance between us, I hope she knows that every day she becomes more and more a part of me. 

I want her to know that whenever I see a beautiful garden, I think of the two of us digging in our yard until the sun would go down. And that I only know how to appreciate the wilderness because she took me on such long, beautiful hikes. I want her to know that when I need quiet time, I think of her saying to me, "shhhh, I need quiet!" and laugh. I hope she knows that whenever I receive a card in the mail, regardless of who it's from, I'm reminded of the year she sent me a birthday card every day for an entire month. And that when I make my bed, I tuck my sheets tightly into the corners just as she would, so that each night reminds me of being home. I want her to know that I am able to do all that I do because of her encouragement. And that I am strong and independent, only because she taught me to have my own thoughts and opinions, never forcing her own. And that when I do hear her voice in the things I say, I smile and am reminded of who I am. 

Mom, I appreciate all of the things you have done in my life. I could never list all the moments that your memory fills my heart. For so much of our lives we've been both together and apart, but I hope you know that you're a part of my life every single day. Happy Mother's Day – I love you so much.